Kenai Peninsula runners will be a major part of the title chase in three of the four races Saturday at the state cross-country meet at Bartlett High School in Anchorage.
The Kenai Central girls and Homer girls are looking to defend their titles in the Class 4A and Class 1-2-3A races, respectively.
In the Class 1-2-3A boys race, both the Homer boys and Seward senior Hunter Kratz were second last year and are hungry for crowns.
The racing starts at noon with the Class 1-2-3A girls, followed by the Class 4A girls at 12:45 p.m., the Class 1-2-3A boys at 1:30 p.m. and the Class 4A boys at 2:15 p.m.
The Kenai girls placed four runners in the top 11 last year en route to their first state title, with current junior Riana Boonstra taking second, sophomore Jaycie Calvert taking fifth, junior Ithaca Bergholtz taking sixth and junior Addison Gibson taking 11th.
Brooke Satathite, now a sophomore, also scored for the Kards that day by taking 53rd. Senior Julie Wilson and junior Kasey Paxton also will toe the line for Kenai.
But even with all her scoring runners returning, and coming off Kenai Peninsula Borough and Region III titles, Kenai coach Maria Calvert said another state title will be a tough task.
“We have very, very stiff competition from West Valley and Chugiak this year,” Calvert said. “We’ve never beat them when they’ve been at full strength.”
The Kards lost to both at the Tsalteshi Invitational, lost to Chugiak at the Bartlett State Preview and lost to West Valley at the Palmer Invitational. Kenai beat a Chugiak squad not at full strength at Palmer.
“I’ll tell you what, it will be a dogfight,” Calvert said. “We’re going to compete the best we can, run within ourselves and really run for each other.”
Both Boonstra and Calvert have a chance to be a factor in an intriguing girls individual race.
Defending state champ Molly Gellert of West is a junior, but a pair of freshmen could steal the show. West Valley’s Kendall Kramer is undefeated this season and has run 18 minutes, 54 seconds, while Juneau’s Sadie Tuckwood also is undefeated and has run 18:12.
The Class 4A boys race has junior Braden Olsen of Kenai and juniors Koby Vinson and Josh Shuler of Soldotna. Kenai junior Karl Danielson also qualified, but has a previous commitment and will not race.
Olsen led the peninsula at the Region III/4A boys race by finishing seventh.
“He’s really looking to embrace the experience and see where he is with the top runners,” Calvert said. “That was his goal, to make it to state.”
Class 4A boys favorites will be Gus Schumacher of Service and the West boys.
Of all the peninsula schools, Homer has the most to gain Saturday.
The girls could win their third straight Class 1-2-3A state title, matching a previous run by the Homer girls from 1998 to 1990. The boys also are in position to nab their first state title.
Homer coach Bill Steyer, who has worked to create a running culture in Homer, realizes what is at stake.
“We definitely want to do that,” Steyer said of repeating as girls champs. “That happened in the late ’80s with three girls championships in a row, and that would be significant.
“Even more significant or epic would be the double. That is motivating these kids to pull it off.”
Steyer said the biggest obstacle for the girls is Grace Christian. At the Region III meet, Megan Pitzman was first, Audrey Rosencrans was second and Autumn Daigle was third as the Mariners beat the Grizzlies 46-23.
“We feel good going into the meet, but we’re not going to underestimate them,” Steyer said. “They have a very good team.”
Lauren Evarts and Alex Moseley also were in the top 10 at regions, while Haley Knott was 13th and Katie Davis was 15th.
Seward also qualified for state, led by Ruby Lindquist in seventh. Sadie Lindquist, Emma Moore, Tanis Lorring, Coral Petrosius, Emma Armand and Sophia Dow also will run for Seward.
“Our goals for both and boys and girls are to have fun and run smart,” Seward assistant Teresa Bickling. “We want to end the season with no regrets.”
Most likely, Seward’s Lindquist and Homer’s top three will compete for second while Glennallen senior Briahna Gerlach carves out her place in Alaska history by winning a fourth state crown.
Kodiak’s Kristy Klinnert (now Waythomas) in 1983-86 at the Class 4A level and Seward’s Emily Ransom Golick from 1990-93 at the Class 1-2-3A level also have achieved the feat.
“She’s talented and extremely tough,” Steyer said of Gerlach. “She’s one of the toughest cross-country runners I’ve seen. Her pain threshold is higher than just about anybody’s.”
The Homer boys will have a showdown with Sitka for the Class 1-2-3A boys crown. The Mariners were looking like a good bet to win state last year, but Southeast schools are always a bit of a mystery and the Wolves came through with a torrid performance to take state.
With the help of 2014 Homer graduate Pedro Ochoa, Homer’s boys have put in a summer and season of training for Saturday’s rematch.
“Our boys are stronger than last year by far,” Steyer said.
Jordan Beachy, Jacob Davis, Luciano Fasulo and Jared Brant all ran under 17 minutes at regions, while Charlie Menke was at 17:29. Denver Waclawski and Bill Rich also provide depth.
In the individual race, Seward senior Hunter Kratz will go for his first state crown. Kratz looked primed Saturday at regions, as he was the only runner in the Class 1-2-3A or 4A races to break 16 minutes.
But Blake Bennett of Anchorage Christian Schools was just seven seconds behind him, and Galena’s Jacob Moos also looms as a threat.
“If I don’t win, it’s not the end of the world,” Kratz said after his region win. “I’ve put the pressure on myself to go for the win at state the last three years.
“I just want to finish and be happy with my performance.”
Kratz would be the fifth boys state champ from Seward and the first since Miles Knotek in 2011.
“We’re so excited for Hunter,” Bickling said. “He trained so hard this summer and really put in the mileage. He’s very prepared, talented and coachable.”
Joining Kratz at state will be Zen Petrosius, Brendon McMurry, Steven Osborn, Roma Hamner, Jaden Van Dyke and Simon Estes.
Nikolaevsk will also have five runners at state in Zachary Trail, Michael Trail, Justina Fefelov, Elizabeth Fefelov and Isabelle Hickman.